Austria, Vienna

Vienna: City of Culture

My first stop in Central Europe before doing the triangle that everyone does, Vienna-Budapest-Prague!

Although my knowledge about classical music and classy stuff like that is embarassingly little, I have still enjoyed myself thus far! Actually, I came to Vienna specially to watch the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert because:

1. It is the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

2. It is free!

At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate it, but the orchestra played popular classical pieces that were really easy to enjoy! And I was so lucky because I was standing in the 3rd row actually, and barely able to see anything, and a really kind guy offered his space in front of the railings so that I’ll be able to see better! 🙂 I was sooo grateful because I had the perfect view afterwards.

Although most people say that 1-2 days is more than enough to cover Vienna, I’m glad I chose to spend 3 days here! Initially I was worried that I’ll have nothing to do, and be really bored (especially since I covered most of the landmark sights in half a day) but the good thing is that, you’ll always find things to do. I spent 3 nights in Vienna because I wanted to watch the orchestra, the ballet as well as the opera. I mean it’s Vienna, you’ve just got to embrace the State Opera House! Definitely getting my culture fix here, because I get to do all 3 at once!

And have I mentioned Viennese food? And their cakes? Simply heavenly :3

 

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

We went into Schloss Gardens at around 6.45pm because that’s when the gates open, but by then we were already too late to get seats, so we stood at the side instead! Even a non-classical music fan like me really enjoyed the concert – I felt that sometimes you could feel your soul being lifted up out of your body as the crescendos rose higher and higher. It was wonderful just immersing yourself in the atmosphere.

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BALLETT: van Manen | Ekman | Kylian

On my 2nd night, I went to watch a Ballet at the Opera House. I bought a seating ticket for 22 euros, but in hindsight, I should have really bought the standing ticket instead! This was a 3 part ballet, comprising of Adagio HammerklavierCacti and Bella Figura. My favourite was Cacti because it didn’t feel like a ballet performance. There was a lot of rhythm, voiceovers and props, so it made it really visually appealing! Bella Figura was interesting as well, because for one part of the dance, the females were actually half-naked. I wasn’t surprised because I read up on it beforehand that there would be nude dancers but still, it’s a different experience because this would never be allowed in Singapore.

DAS RHEINGOLD|Richard Wagner

And on my last night, I went to watch the opera Das Rheingold and it was so good! It was my first time watching an opera, and also my first time buying stand-up tickets. I was pretty lost at the start because I had no idea how it worked, but it seemed like everyone was also pretty new at this thing. I also made friends with 2 French guys that were totally new to this opera thing as well – it’s always fun to meet new people 🙂

I knew that this was an iconic piece of Wagner’s, and I wanted to buy tickets like a month ago, but it was all sold out! So I decided to queue up for the standing tickets. I heard from my friends that you should queue up about 1 hour before the ticket admissions start, so I went there at about 4pm (tickets started selling at 5.10pm) and there were already about 2 full lines of people!

I had no idea that it was that popular till I realized it was also because the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was playing as well, and the conductor Sir Simon Rattler was renowned. Like people will actually go to the opera just to see Sir Simon conduct, so it was pretty cool, i got to listen to the Vienna Philharmonic Opera twice!! 🙂

I found the opera and storyline to be really interesting and I really enjoyed the experience overall. The only annoying thing is that you kept having to look down on the screen to understand what they were singing.

**Tips for buying a standing ticket**

1. Check the popularity of the show

My friend went for the standing ticket for the ballet, and he said 1 hour beforehand, there were only 10 people in line, and even though he went just 45 minutes before the show started, he could still be in the 3rd row. On the other hand, my other friend went 1 hour before Das Rheingold started, and he only managed to get one of the few remaining tickets left! So, it all depends on what is being performed. To be safe, I think 1.5 hours would be a good estimate.

2. 3 euro and 4 euro tickets

I got the 4 euro ticket because you get to be on the first floor, so I think the view would obviously be better, that’s why it’s more expensive. The 3 euro tickets are for the 2nd and 3rd floors.

3. Bring a scarf

So how it works is that once you find a good spot, you are supposed to tie a scarf on the bars to show that that place is reserved, and no one else can take your place. After that, you can walk around the state opera house or go to the washroom and still be secured of your place!

4. God Bless Subtitles

A German Opera? Fret not! Because there are tiny screens on the railings, where there are English subtitles, so that you’ll be able to appreciate the splendour of the piece.

5. Dress decently

You don’t have to wear a suit and tie, but they don’t allow you to wear shorts into the opera, so dress properly if you don’t want to get turned away! Jeans are fine, though if you bought a seating ticket, you would want to dress nicely, because everyone there is dressed to the nines.

In my opinion, I think the standing tickets are one of the best in the house, especially if you arrive early, and get to stand in front. You will actually be really close to the stage, and it’s probably better and cheaper than the view you get from the 10 euros, or 22 euros tickets. Of course, the downside is that you’ll have to stand for a prolonged period of time. For Das Rheingold, it was 2.5 hours of standing, with no intermission! And it was already his shortest opera, as compared to the other 3 parts of the opera – imagine standing for 4 hours!

So that sums up my nights of culture in Wien – orchestra, ballet and opera, so glad I managed to get to see all of them!

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United Kingdom, York

Day Trip to York

2 May 2015

I think York has to be one of the most interesting cities I’ve visited so far! I really liked how there were so many museums to visit, and how the city was so compact, everything could be easily covered via foot.

I only had about 6 hours to explore the city, but I think you could easily spend 2 days in York if you wish! The actual bus journey from Manchester to York was only 2 hours! However, I had to change buses at Leeds, and wait in between for an hour that’s why buses take longer than trains – but I didn’t have a choice because the buses were so much cheaper than the trains!

I felt very accomplished, considering I only had half a day because I visited the National Railway Museum (free!), walked along the city walls, visited the Museum Gardens, York Minster, had lunch at Betty’s Tea Rooms, walked through the Shambles district and visited the York Castle Museum! Not too bad for half a day innit.

Of course I would have loved to spend longer at each museum, and spend more time at the exhibits. Unfortunately, I had to rush through them due to limited time. I would have also liked to visit the Yorkshire Museum (they have a Richard III man or myth exhibition!!) and the Jorvik museum about vikings.

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I liked the National Railway Museum for it’s vintage feel, it’s as though you stepped back in time. And even though I’m not a train fanatic, it was interesting to read about all the different trains! Not only do they have royal carriages, and old British trains, but they have the Japanese bullet train as well as other locomotives and steam engines. And it’s super accessible as it’s near the Railway Station itself!

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I thought that the York Minster was really unique and special because it’s just not any ordinary church. It felt more like a museum than a church. Of course, this came with a high entry fee of 10 pounds (9 pounds for students). If you wanted to go up to the tower, it would have been 14 quid. However, not only do you get to see the cathedral, you get to visit the undercroft (which is this huge big underground interactive museum essentially, that explains the history of the York Minster!), as well as learn about stained glass and sculpturing. There’s also an orb showcasing medieval art. So I thought that you got to see a lot of things just by visiting the York Minster! They have really informative write-ups about each section, so I really liked that. It was different from the other churches that I visited.

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This was Sarah’s recommendation! Afternoon tea is such a quintessential English thing, I had to do it. What’s more, I love scones, clotted cream and jam, so it was pretty good, albeit pricey. My set was like 11 quid, which is like 22 sgd for 2 scones and a cup of tea ha ha ha. The whole ambience of the place was really quaint and fancy though!!

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These were taken at the York Castle Museum! I really liked this museum, because it isn’t as much of history as it is of day-to-day Victorian living. I think the York Museums are really wonderfully done and I would recommend it (5 quid for students, 6 quids for both York Castle and Yorkshire Museum). They talk of the common social history, and they decorated the museum to be just like how it was like in the olden days, so it was more of an immersive experience rather than picture-writeup picture-writeup. Sometimes, I could imagine how Tess of the D’urbervilles was living like in those days, so it was really cool! Alas, I couldn’t spend much time here because I had to rush back to catch my bus but I think i could have easily spent 2-3 hours here if I wanted!

They have different sections, like the Victorian living room, how births and death are regarded, dressing of the Victorian age, what jobs were common in that period, so I thought it was really interesting.

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Also, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I realized that Amos was in Manchester as well, and we decided to meet up for an impromptu dinner at this Indian place called Mylahore, where they served really good Indian food. I think i’m having too much asian food deprivation. The portions were way too big for us though, and we couldn’t finish, so I would suggest sharing. But I always love serendipitous moments like this, and we had really good conversations and dinner so yay for social media.

You can tell that I really love York from my pictures, and I think that everyone should seriously consider a day trip there! Such a lovely place 🙂

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Copenhagen, Exchange

Like a true Dane

Felt like a true blue dane today because after all this time of being in the city, I finally cycled from Nørrebro to Amager Strandpark Beach! #achievementunlocked It was my first time cycling about 10km, and I think I did pretty good for my first try 🙂

I think exploring the city by bike is one of the best ways to see the city, especially when the Sun was out, the weather was just way too beautiful and you could feel that everyone was in a joyous mood just soaking in the sun. I really enjoyed sightseeing, passing by the canals and parks and just admiring Copenhagen.

I also picnicked at Kongens Have (Rosenburg’s Castle Garden) so I feel like I accomplished many of what I set out to do in Copenhagen. Cycle around the city, have a picnic at King’s Park, visit the beach, see Kastrup Søbad, soak in the Sun. And head out at night to party yay! Today was such a fruitful and fulfilling day. I really loooove Copenhagen so so much ❤

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Germany, Munich

5 tips for visiting Neuschwastein Castle

Neuschwastein Castle, otherwise known as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” is really beautiful indeed. However, it is also the most touristy place I have visited ever. I have not seen any other European city with sooo many Asians, it’s as though all of Asia’s tourists congregated in Munich. Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, basically every Asian country!

  1. Save money travelling with friends

Buy the Bayern (Bavaria) ticket, which is much cheaper than a point-to-point ticket from Munich HBF to Fussen. One person costs 23 euros, 2 persons 28 euros, 3 persons 33 euros 4 persons 38 euros, 5 persons 43 euros. Basically, an additional 5 euros for each additional person. It just doesn’t make sense, so you should definitely find people to share the ticket with. Train inspectors come to check often too, so it’s safer to buy the ticket!

The Bayern ticket covers all trains and buses for a day, so you can have unlimited rides, and it covers the bus from Fussen bahnhof to Hohenschwangau, which would otherwise cost 2.80 euros.

You can buy it at any ticket machine, and there are more than 120 ticket machines in Munich, so you don’t have to worry about being unable to buy it. I think it’s better to buy the day before, or on the day itself, so that you can keep your plans flexible!

Don’t buy from the ticket counter because they’ll charge you a service fee of an extra 2 euros!

It looks like this!

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  1. Arrive early

Arrive at the train station 15 minutes beforehand so that you’ll guarantee yourself a seat. Fussen is insanely popular, as I’ve mentioned earlier.

  1. Buy Castle tickets in advance

If you want to go inside the castle, you have to make reservations and book tickets at least 2 days in advance. If you purchase it on the spot, you’re looking at a minimum of 2 hours waiting time. Furthermore, they’ll allocate you timeslots and you’ll have to stick to the timeslot, which may be even 1-2 hours later!

We didn’t go in because we heard that it wasn’t worth it. After we met some people in the hostel who have already visited Neuschwastein, they said it was definitely worth going inside because you take 3 hours to reach there, it’s kind of a pity to just take a few (postcard-perfect) pictures. However, you don’t have to purchase the combination ticket of Neuschwastein and Hoswenaggu, as out of the two, Neuschwastein is much more interesting.

It’s impossible to go in by yourself, you can only access the castle through a guided tour so book early!

11 euros with student discount, 1.80 euro reservation fee

  1. Worth the trek – Marienbrücke

Go up to Marienbuckle to get the best views of the castle. See all the postcards of the castle with that perfect vantage point? They probably took it from Marienbrücke. It’s definitely worth the uphill trek, to be honest, I think it only took 10-15 minutes to get there? And the view is amazing. You see the majestic castle surrounded in snow-capped pine trees, with the Alps as the backdrop, and a waterfall flowing in the background, it’s amazing. I can see why the King wanted to build his leisure castle here.

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Plus, you also get a really good view of Hosswenagu with the lake beside it. Score!

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Due to the snow the day before, there was actually a gate barricading the entry to Marienbuckle. Not to worry, just climb over the gate, everyone was doing it and you should too.

Usually, there’s a shuttle bus that brings you to the castle, but due to renovations, the shuttle bus wouldn’t be available till May. We were only left with the options of taking a horse carriage up (6 euros uphill, 3 euros downhill) or walking. We decided to walk, because we’ll be able to take in more sights, get some exercise while saving some money. Plus, the queue for the horse carriage was crazy long. You’ll save time by walking instead, we took only about 20 minutes to get to the castle! And another 15 minutes up to Marienbuckle.

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  1. Create a rough timetable

Plan your time well in advance. You have to take a bus (either 73 or 78) from Fussen Bahnhoff to Hosswenagu bus stop, and that takes about 8 minutes. However, the bus only comes every half an hour or so. You’ll want to plan your schedule in such a way that when you take the bus, it’s just in time for the train back! It’s no fun shivering in the cold. We didn’t know of the bus timings earlier, and had to wait for about an hour in order to catch the next train. I took pictures of the bus timings, so you can view them here 🙂

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As we didn’t go into the castle, it was a half day trip to Fussen for us, where we took the 8.53am train, arrived at 11pm and explored till 2pm! We hiked up to both castles as well as the lake, so plenty of time! We got back to Munich at 5pm and still had time to walk around Munich, so it was pretty rad.

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1 beautiful castle down, and plenty more to go!

More castle inspiration here

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Kraków, Poland

Day trip to Auschwitz

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Getting there: Bus tickets

Leave aside 1 day for the Auschwitz concentration camp because it takes about 1-1.5 hours to get there. It would be best to get your bus tickets beforehand at the bus station so that you would know well in advance what time to be at the bus station. I think buses depart every half an hour if I’m not wrong.

We didn’t and it was a mad rush catching the bus because the bus was going to leave soon, and you could only buy tickets on the bus itself with cash. So we were running around trying to find an ATM machine to withdraw cash and the bus actually left but luckily, the bus driver was kind enough to stop and let us board again. The bus ride is 14 zlotys one-way.

Make sure you have enough money for your bus ride back as well! And it’s better to buy 2 one-way tickets so that you have the flexibility of choosing when to leave.

Between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau), there is a free shuttle bus that runs every half an hour. There are some restaurants there, so you can have lunch after Auschwitz I before taking the bus to Auschwitz II!

Get a guided tour

We regretted not booking for the audio guides because we didn’t know that they changed their policy. Previously, you could rent the audio guides for 5 zlotys in English to go around but now, all audio guides are literally guided by a guide who speaks into the device and it transmits into the headsets.

We didn’t know better and went into Auschwitz without a guide, which I think defeats the purpose because we didn’t know what was going on most of the time. Luckily, we found guides who were speaking in English and stuck as close to the group as possible so that we could at least hear some description and explanation.

Guided tours are only available after 10am, and you have to book in advance online because slots get snapped up really fast!

***

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We didn’t spend a long time in Auschwitz though, because the weather was just way too terrible to be outside.

However, one of the descriptions read, “The Jews were stripped naked and forced to work in winter. Occasionally, they will be doused in water. Many of them froze to death”.

Being in Auschwitz on a cold, wintry day where the rain was pouring, it kind of put us in their shoes. If we were already miserable whilst being wrapped out in scarves and coats, can you imagine how they felt? Being out in the cold with no protection from the external elements and then being doused with water.

Some of the exhibits really tugged at your heartstrings as well, because it was really visual, like you see rooms full of shoes, and luggages, with people thinking that they will get it back when they arrive, but they never did, and most of them never survived either.

Birkenau is completely outdoors, where you can see the train tracks that brought the people to the gas chambers, and you can see the ruins and remnants left of the gas chambers where thousands of people were gassed to death.

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Definitely worth a visit to realize the gravity of war and its’ atrocities.

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Kraków, Poland

Kraków

Recommended days: 3 days

We were really unlucky in the sense that our time in Krakow coincided with the storm in Europe. So we were besieged by strong winds and heavy snow (yes, even snow, in April!) and didn’t really get to sightsee much.

I would recommend 3 days, not because there are a lot of things to do or see in Krakow but because the museums/attractions close at 4pm. Thus, even if you were to start in the morning, there wouldn’t be enough time to cover both the Old Town as well as the Jewish Quarter Kazimierz.

As we only had 2 days in Krakow (excluding Auschwitz), it was a bit of a bummer because by the time we got to the Jewish quarter, everything was closed and we just saw synagogues everywhere but didn’t know the meaning or the significance behind it. The cemetery closes at 4pm as well. The free Jewish walking tour would be good because there are barely any signposts so a guide is really needed to explain the sights.

The Old Town is really pretty, and in my opinion, has more to see as compared to Warsaw because there are not only churches, but castles as well as towers. I liked the food market just right outside of the Cloth Hall, where there were many shops selling traditional Polish food like dumplings, sausages, cena (cheese) as well as various knick knacks and souvenirs!

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Wawel Castle was really pretty as well (perhaps aided by the fact that there was brilliant weather for the 2 hours that we were there), and you’ll spend quite a long time there because there’s just so much to see! Inside the castle, there is the cathedral, which is pretty worth going to.

I stayed at Greg & Tom Hostel, which was good because it just opposite the shopping mall (where the train and bus station is located at). However, to get to Old Town, you would have to walk for about 10-15 minutes. But it was amazing because you get free breakfast and free dinner!! And the food was actually decent, and could fill you up. So I thought it was value for money, especially for poor, broke students like us. There was also free alcohol as well as pub-crawls everyday yay!

If you know me, you would know that I love serendipitous moments and on our way to Auschwitz, I actually met 2 of my friends on the very same bus! Like what are the odds of meeting someone you know on the bus? They were on exchange from Netherlands, and it was purely by coincidence that we happened to be at the same place, at the same time and it was really lovely catching up, and walking around Auschwitz together before heading for dinner.

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We had a really nice (read: cheap and good) dinner at Coco, near the Old Town and the Cloth Hall. It was SO much value for money – everyone should go there! They have a pretty extensive menu, pork, chicken, duck and beef where you can pick a side – potatoes/fries/rice. On top of that, you get a soup of the day and a salad!! And guess how much was it for?? Only 14 zlotys, at first we couldn’t believe our eyes, that’s like 4 euros, for a 3-course meal. The food was really good too! It would have to be my most satisfying meal in Poland 🙂

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** This picture does not do the food justice!

The rest of the food I ate in Krakow was pretty meh, and not really worth mentioning.

I have to say though; the shopping is soo cheap! Especially for beauty products, they were having such massive discounts; I had to double check. I bought Nuxe’s Huile Prodigeuse (50ml) for like $17 SGD? In Singapore, it’s definitely way more expensive. At the counter, I saw that Bioderma’s eye cream was going on sale for $5, I was like wtf, even if I’m too lazy to use eye cream most of the time, $5 eye cream?? No way I’m passing that up.

I also bought a pretty nude lipstick from Essence for about $4! Would have bought more if we had more time hehe #whereallmymoneygoesto

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Poland, Warsaw

Warsaw

Recommended days: 1

***Never ever visit Warsaw on a Tuesday! All the museums are closed 😦 We didn’t know till we got there, and it was really such a bummer because we only had half a day in Warsaw to spend, and that day had to be a Tuesday, damn.

Otherwise, we wanted to go to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is supposedly really interactive and interesting to visit!

Getting around:

If you’re flying in to Warsaw, you have to get an airport bus transfer, because the airport is about 45 minutes away from Centrum!

Book in advance online (Modlin Bus) just in case the bus is full and you don’t get a seat! Being stranded at the airport certainly isn’t fun at all. When we were boarding the bus, some people wanted to buy tickets from the driver itself, but the driver curtly brushed them off and told them it was full and that they had to wait for the next one. Worse is that the bus only comes once per hour, so it’s much safer to book ahead!

If in a large group, a taxi may be cheaper because then you can split the cost by 4 and then directly arrive at your place.

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It was a pity that we only had half a day to cover Warsaw; I would have liked 1 full day because there were certain landmarks we didn’t get to see. I would have wanted to visit the Marie Curie museum as well as Frederick Chopin’s museum! I didn’t know they were polish! I also really wanted to go up to the 30th floor of the Palace of Culture, you can’t miss it, and it’s probably the biggest and most iconic landmark in Warsaw. I would have loved strolling along Lazienki Park too! But the weather didn’t allow for it 😦

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I’m so proud of myself though; I walked more than 10km all over the city! But of course I had aching legs the next day. We walked along the different embassies, onto the main shopping street and then into Old Town.

Keep your eyes peeled out on the left as well as on the right, because there are so many pretty buildings around! However, after awhile it got a little bit boring for me because there were just soooo many churches, it was just church after church after church. Especially for me, because I wasn’t a Catholic, I couldn’t really grasp the significance or appreciate it.

Our airbnb host was really lovely as well, because she had this file that recommended us all the good places to eat, and what to do. It was about a 10-minute walk to Centrum so not too shabby!

Food to eat:

Bobby Burger: This was the lifesaver at night. Because we arrived really late, at like 12.30 due to a delayed flight, it was amazing that it was still open past midnight! It’s a franchise chain, so perfect for when hunger pangs strike. It’s about 14 PLN ($6 SGD) I think?

Charlotte cafe:

This was in our host’s recommended places to eat, and came in highly recommended by tripadvisor as well! It’s more of a breakfast place, selling breads and jams and croissants, and is a French bakery. I really liked the croissants; it was crispy yet soft, and you have to try the butter!! It has a vanilla-ish taste to it, and doesn’t taste like your typical butter. It opens at 7am so it’s really great if you have a long day ahead.

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Other recommendations my airbnb host gave but we had no time to try are:

Butchery and wine: Really good steak

Beirut: Music bar/Mediterranean food (sells seafood/hummus)

Nolita: Fine dining

Signature: Fine dining

Sofra: Mediterranean/Turkish

Miedzy nami: Hipster café

My friend also recommended me to try Cukiernia Pawlowicz, which supposedly sells the best donuts everrr but I didn’t have time to go find it! The reviews sounded absolutely amazing though, rose almond and chocolate filled donuts wowww. It’s like the Krispy Kreme of Poland, go try and tell me how it is!

Traditional Polish food that is really popular and can be found all around are:

  • Pierogi: dumplings (not sure if I went to a bad restaurant, but I didn’t really like it, it tastes kind of soggy)
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